Fat Joe's Chicken Shack

Thu 9th – Sat 11th August 2012

reviews

Daniel Malcolm

at 10:02 on 11th Aug 2012

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Don't let the show's catastrophic title deter you. This isn't a play about a greasy fast food restaurant in the Midwest. In fact, the throwaway line to which the show owes its title is one of the weirdest, wonkiest red herrings in the whole script. So inexplicable is the grotesquely unappealing 'Fat Joe's Chicken Shack', that one suspects a deliberate own goal from a production taking its football-marketing piss-take a self-destructive step too far.

That's just the kind of perversity that the Carl-Jung-quoting Tris would indulge in. An advertising guru with pretensions to high art, Tris doesn't come up with average football boot ads. When he's asked to dream up a new commercial for the Brazilian (a football star), his apocalyptic vision becomes the unintended inspiration for a real revolutionary...

Tris is an ingenious (and well played) character, fodder to the frustrated idealists of the Fringe here for respite from 9-5 mundanity. His philistinic foils in the ad agency - three cut-throat consultants indifferent to the world beyond their profit margins - were less interesting, important though they are to the political message of the play.

But this lack of character depth doesn't cripple the play, for the real show is the cinematic ad fantasies that the four of them concoct in ensemble. In brainstorming for the Brazilian commercial, they conjure up hilarious parodies of the kind of sultry street/beach scenes of South-America that footballers unexpectedly pop up in.

I'm not going to try to recreate the ironically god-like intoxication of their act of creation that infects advertisers and audience alike. Printed words are no substitute for the gleeful stage energy with which they piggyback on each others' fantasies, and shape-shift to inhabit their artificial adworld.

It's the seductive deception of these lovingly-constructed mirages (so far removed from the sordid reality) that carries the political punch of the play - not the sprawlingly untidy plot. For when that jape fizzles, you realise that it was the witty repartee and word painting that was so seductive all along. This is immersive theatre without props: 'Fat Joe's Chicken Shack' belies its title to create an unexpectedly spectacular, politically charged, imaginarium.

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Elizabeth O'Connor

at 16:19 on 11th Aug 2012

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'Fat Joe's Chicken Shack' probably wins the prize for worst publicity at the Fringe this year. When I saw my reviewing schedule, clocked the terrible title and read the (even worse) blurb online, I was dreading what I was going to have to sit through for fifty minutes. The reality is, 'Fat Joe's Chicken Shack' is great. Really great - truly a little gem of the Fringe this year. Following a football advertising agency in London, and the project of four young creatives to sell football boots, Duncan Ellis's script is intelligent and sharp, delivering a needle-sharp indictment of global marketing and the power of advertising that is as incredibly funny as it is bleak.

Focusing on a sport that constantly causes controversy in its flippant attitude to finances, the show highlights the consequences of the decisions made by Western money-spinners on the third-world poor, highlighting the inequalities that persist between them. The script clearly intends to raise awareness of such issues, but remains covert: the issue never openly demands our attention or repeats itself to the point of tedium, but sneaks in beneath the humour to deliver an unexpected punch.

Whilst the writing is largely a triumph, the production is clearly low-budget: the stage is completely bare, which is just about pulled off by a good script and solid performances. The actors clearly understand their roles well, and commit to their 'types' with humour and imagination.

The worst thing about writing this review is knowing that the show ends on the day this is published. If you've managed to read this before the final performance, then I urge you to catch it - sprint there if you have to. It's not the best production in the world, but the script is truly special, and makes for unique Fringe show with both a heart and a brain. Unmissable.

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